New St. Pete restaurant 'Sōl' thrives with local urban farms

Shopping local beats supply chain shortages
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Posted at 6:17 AM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 04:57:29-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s no secret that supply chain issues continue to weigh on our everyday lives. We see the effects in rising prices at the grocery store and when we dine out, but one new restaurant in St. Petersburg isn’t fazed because they shop entirely local.

“We locally source everything, and we're free from common allergens so there's not a drop of gluten, soy, inflammatory cow dairy products, no corn, no refined sugars… or oils,” said Debbie DeVico-O’Neil, co-owner and executive chef of “sōl /a st pete bistrō/.”

DeVico-O’Neil and her husband Ron O’Neil used to own a gym in St Petersburg, but due to the pandemic, clientele dropped and they started considering different ways to help the community with health. That’s when they bought the former WEPA Cocina de Puerto Rico on 22nd Avenue.

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Debbie, Sol Bistro

DeVico-O’Neil had been a holistic and intuitive chef for a decade. She said it was “the answer to what I was praying for... reaching more people getting the word out about fresh, healthy food and how it really heals like inflammation and you can cure all of these things, Candida, headaches... bloating, all of these things by just swapping out the unhealthy ingredients for healthy ingredients.”

The organic, farm-to-table restaurant concept is known to be a little more pricey from the kitchen to the consumer, but as the country continues to struggle through supply chain shortages, chefs like DeVico-O’Neil don’t even bat an eye.

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Sol Bistro
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Sol Bistro tuna

“People all the time… they're like, ‘Oh, well, it's so hard to find food now.’ And I'm like, ‘but it's not for me because I source everything locally,” she explained.

Sol Bistro works with a handful of urban farms and local purveyors from Gainsville to Tampa.

“We guarantee that our stuff’s staying in the community... we're not to the highest bidder to ship it out of state. There's not trucking issues, big supply chain issues. If you want to come get it, just stop on by,” said Travis Malloy, co-owner of Meacham Urban Farm in Downtown Tampa.

It’s a two-acre farm tucked between city apartment buildings and I-275.

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Meacham Urban Farm

“We were brought in and sponsored by the Tampa Housing Authority in conjunction with the Hillsborough County School District to bring affordable organic local produce to the neighborhood and to teach Hillsborough County students about agriculture,” Malloy said.

After just one year, their crops are thriving, but the yield and consistency will take some time.

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Meacham Urban Farm

“We don't spray anything so especially on a new site, you know, there could be an outbreak of a certain insect or a certain pest,” explained Meacham Urban Farm Co-Owner Joe Dalessio. “You deal with a lot more of those issues in the first couple years and then they kind of settle themselves out as the entire ecosystem gets built.”

Other farms like 15th Street Farm in Downtown St. Petersburg have been around for more than a decade.

“There is a lot of vitality in the plants here…and it is entirely due to the microorganisms that we cultivate in the soil,” said Emmanuel Roux, founder of Urban Food Park which owns the farm.

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15th Street Farm
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15th Street Farm

“The biggest handicap for the development of urban agriculture is the public apathy,” he explained, “The changing purchasing habits is a very difficult thing to do.”

Roux has nearly 100 different veggies at his farm and said he not only grows kale but can beat store prices straight from the soil.

“At Publix… the organic kale probably comes from Mexico or California and has been sitting in warehouses and trucks for two weeks,” he said.

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15th Street Farm

The challenge for consumers is creativity and flexibility based on seasonal produce.

Devico-O’Neil’s advice to restaurants is to be serious about shopping local.

“It does cost a little bit more, but when you create a partnership with them as a wholesale account, they do give you discounts as that partnership grows,” she said. “Start creating the relationships so we can build that, you know, local system and tribe of people who all have the same mission.”

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Thai dish at Sol Bistro
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Sol Bistro staff

To support local, you can simply eat at these restaurants or shop at the urban farms yourself.

Sol bistro is reservation recommended since they are a small restaurant that makes everything from scratch when ordered.

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Market bowl Sol Bistro

Meacham Urban Farm in Tampa opens a retail shop every Saturday and Sunday. They also bring in local poultry.

15th Street Farms in St Pete is open to the public Wednesdays and Sundays, but it’s best to call ahead, and easiest to order a $25 dollar box that will include whatever is in season.

If you go to a restaurant that claims to use local produce, be sure the ask what dishes on the menu are from a local farm and order those.

Sol also shops with Brick Street Market on 22nd Street in St Pete which is open to the public as well.

Other local farms include:

  • TrailBale Farm Temple Terrace (also owned by Travis Malloy)
  • Peach Pit Farms & More Lithia
  • Greens N Things Urban Farm St Pete
  • South Tampa Farm
  • Uriah’s Urban Farms Tampa
  • Sonnengarten Farm in Clearwater
  • A Simpler Place Farm and Market Lithia
  • Wingspread Farm Valrico
  • Vitality Farms Company Lakeland
  • Sweetwater Organic Community Farm Tampa
  • Mother Earth's Urban Farm C.S.A. Tampa
  • Life Farms Clearwater
  • Providence Cattle Co. Volusia County